Democracy entails the participation of the people in the running of government affairs. The continent of Africa was benighted of this ideology until the coming in of the imperialist. The continent was predominantly under monarchies but going by the modern trends, many adopted the democratic principle. The government system that existed was that of chiefs and kings presiding over a certain area.
The picture of these monarchies remaining the custodians of authority began to change when a new wave of ideologies started flooding into the continent. Subtle the imperialist were, the used the chiefs to impose their ideologies on the people through a system they called ‘indirect rule.’ When they were in complete control, they abolished the indirect rule, which meant that the chiefs and kings were under their jurisdiction of the imperialists. The oppression that the Africans suffered on the hands of the imperialist was enough for Africans to push their agenda of self –governance in the 1950s and beyond.
The idea on which Africans pushed the agenda for self -governance is on the premise that Africans should be free politically, socially and financially. However, the tide has completely changed to what Africans thought they were ushering in at the expense of colonial rule.
Understanding of democracy today, is that there is need to have many political parties that are participating in the governance of the country through providing checks and balances to the government of the day. However correct this constitutional right may be, there is always an underline principle that should precipitate the formation of a political party. On what ideological ground are the political parties being formed? Knowing the ideological ground on which political parties are formed helps the party to be meaningful to the people and the society.
It is true that the Supreme law in many African countries would provide the guidance on the character of the political party yet players tend to ignore the constitutional provisions. An example of the constitutional provisions on political parties is as follows :
(1) For the purposes of the Constitution, political party is an association or organisation whose members are citizens and whose objectives include the contesting of elections in order to form government or influence the policy of the national or local government.
(2) A political party shall-
a. Have a national Character;
b. Have a democratically elected election governing body;
c. Promote and uphold national unity
d. Abide by the democratic principles of good governance; and promote and practice democracy through regular, fair and free elections within the party
e. Respect the right of others to participate in the political process, including women, and persons with disabilities
f. Promote and respect human rights and gender equality and equity
g. Promote the objects and principles of this Constitution and the rule of law; and
h. Subscribe to and observe any code of conduct for political parties, prescribed by an Act of Parliament
(3) A political party shall not-
a. Be founded on a religious, linguistic, racial, ethnic, gender or provincial basis, or seek to engage in propaganda based on any of those matters;
b. Engage in or encourage violence or intimidation of its members, supporters, opponents or any other person;
c. Establish or maintain a paramilitary force, militia or similar organisation; or
d. Engage in bribery or other forms of corrupt practices
Political parties are a going-concern translating that they will continue existing for a foreseeable period. However, the picture is different today in most African countries; political parties are formed at will by any aggrieved individual and without any political ideology to sell to the people. They are driven by the desire to have power and satisfy their selfish interest. A difference in opinion between two powerful members of the party often results in the formation of a new political party by the one who seems to have the lost the battle of the opinions and influence. Political parties are formed on the premise of popularity and not ideologies. The lack of defined ideologies in the African political sphere has made it difficult for political players to leave the stage while people are still clapping. Longevity of many African political players often times ends up compromising what they stood for and what they desired to represent
Lessons need be drawn from countries that practice plural politics with political parties that have sound ideologies that they sell to the people come every election season. It is very easy to engage in political violence when you do not have clear ideas to sell to the people. It is the duty of the political party to define and explain its social and economic vision it has for the country and the electorates. Democracy does not just stop at a majority participation in elections but those entrusted with the instruments of power at whatever level need to know the ideas the sell to the people. It is easy for the electorates to hold a public office bearer accountable for failure to deliver the ideas that the party sold to them. What should be sold to the electorates is the ideology the party represents and not an individual selling a person is a lack of clear road map of democracy of the country.
Perhaps, Africa needs to understand democracy from its point of view and not from an imperialist point of view. Democracy should also be understood from the African Cultural perspective for many African Citizens to understand it and practice it better. This is going to help the continent and end the squabbles currently masquerading as democratic processes yet they are shadow of what politics should be like. Or simply put democracy is not an African thing????